Kevin Whitehead

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Whitehead's articles on jazz and improvised music have appeared in such publications as Point of Departure, the Chicago Sun-Times, Village Voice, Down Beat, and the Dutch daily de Volkskrant.

He is the author of Why Jazz: A Concise Guide (2010), New Dutch Swing (1998), and (with photographer Ton Mijs) Instant Composers Pool Orchestra: You Have to See It (2011).

His essays have appeared in numerous anthologies including Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006, Discover Jazz and Traveling the Spaceways: Sun Ra, the Astro-Black and Other Solar Myths.

Whitehead has taught at Towson University, the University of Kansas and Goucher College. He lives near Baltimore.

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This is FRESH AIR. Fifty years ago today in a Washington nightclub, Chicago's Ramsey Lewis Trio recorded "The 'In' Crowd," the rare jazz single that landed on the pop charts. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the audience was half the show.

In honor of Billie Holiday's 100th birthday this month, several artists are releasing out Holiday tribute albums. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead looks at a couple of these by other singers. One he rather likes; the other, not so much.

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Billie Holiday was born 100 years ago Tuesday in Philadelphia. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has some thoughts on Holiday's changing style, her influences, and singers she influenced.

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Since 2006, Laurie Pepper, the widow of jazz saxophonist Art Pepper, has been releasing live recordings her husband made during the last years of his life. A new batch of these recordings from 1981 is out. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that Art Pepper played like he was making up for lost time.

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Jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson was in his 30s when he debuted on record with Herbie Hancock. Before that he'd become a medical doctor, who went on to specialize in psychiatry, because it left his nights free to play the horn. With Henderson's new album, Collective Portrait, Fresh Air jazz Critic Kevin Whitehead says that decision is still paying off for him.

With guitarist Bobby Broom, organist Chris Foreman has recorded several albums with the Deep Blue Organ Trio. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Foreman is one of a few Chicago jazz heroes who should be better known outside the city limits.

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Lennie Tristano had a cool, egghead reputation — Time called him the "Schoenberg of Jazz" — but he could play pretty hot. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a newly released 1951 live recording by the pianist's sextet at Chicago's Blue Note club.

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In 2005, jazz composer and french horn player Tom Varner left New York for Seattle, where he put together a nine-piece band of local players. Their new album is called Nine Surprises. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that Varner can really write, and they can really play.

Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews two reissues featuring the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy — a live recording of a 1963 quartet that only played Thelonious Monk tunes, and later music for solo soprano. Monk was always Lacy's biggest influence.

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Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews three jazz books out this holiday season—a singer's biography, a pianist's autobiography, and a fat coffee table book. Whitehead says they're all worth a look, though he has a couple of quibbles — and also a confession.

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Boston jazz guitarist Eric Hofbauer's quintet has two new CDs out, playing 20th-century classics. One is the year's second jazz version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, following the Bad Plus' trio version. The other is Olivier Messiaen's very unjazzy Quartet for the End of Time. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead likes them a lot.

Saxophonist Oliver Lake was one of the founders of the World Saxophone Quartet in the 1970s, and plays in the co-op Trio 3. Lake has led numerous bands of his own, including an occasional big band, and an organ quartet. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that organ group is one to watch in a review for What I Heard.

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In November 1966, eight months before he died of cancer, John Coltrane played a concert at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was not a financial success --only 700 people showed up — and the band's high-energy music proved too much for some listeners. That concert recording is now officially out for the first time. It got Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead thinking about what Coltrane was up to.

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French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967, which led to his getting an American record contract, and playing with George Duke, Frank Zappa, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then he started his own jazz-rock fusion bands. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says before Ponty came to the States, he already had his concept.

Two new trio albums by tenor saxophonists who won the Thelonious Monk jazz competition share a conspicuous influence — vintage Sonny Rollins. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio by last year's winner, 25-year old Chile-born New Yorker Melissa Aldana, and Trios Live by Joshua Redman, who took the prize in 1991.

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The Westerlies is a quartet of young New York brass players who know each other from school days in Seattle. Their debut album is a set of pieces by Seattle-based composer and improviser Wayne Horvitz. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Horvitz and the Westerlies are a perfect fit.

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Jazz pianist, bandleader and composer Horace Silver died Wednesday at age 85. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says that Silver had been off the scene awhile, but his influence is as strong as ever. Hear an appreciation.

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Two fine albums by drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society, Man Dance and its sequel Barbeque Dog, are now available again as downloads, after being out of print for ages. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says they're prime examples of the 1980s' so-called "free-funk" movement.

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DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR. Ted Rosenthal an early winter of the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition has played George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" solo and with symphonic and jazz orchestras. Now he's recorded a version for jazz trio as part of the problem. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Rosenthal has a real feel for the material.

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In June 1970, Miles Davis played four nights at New York's rock palace Fillmore East, following earlier appearances there and at San Francisco's Fillmore West. A complete recording of all four of those June sets are now available for the first time.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the jazz trumpeter had gone to the Fillmore in search of a new audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good evening. With great pleasure, Mr. Miles Davis.

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MILES DAVIS: (Instrumental)

The great bebop pianist Bud Powell played several engagements at the New York jazz club Birdland in 1953. Parts of his shows were broadcast on the radio, and one listener recorded some onto acetate discs. A new collection of those recordings is out now: Birdland 1953 on three CDs from ESP-Disk'. The sound quality isn't much, but the music is terrific.

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